Looking to cut costs as a result of the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts President Barack Obama signed into law Friday, March 1, the administration announced Tuesday it would cancel White House tours.
According to ABC News, the canceled tours will save the government $18,000 per week. NBC News figures put the total higher, at $74,000 per week.
"The phrase 'jumping the shark' describes that gimmicky moment when something once considered significant is exposed as ludicrous. This is the week the White House jumped the sequester," Kimberley Strassel wrote at The Wall Street Journal. "The precise moment came Tuesday when the administration announced that it was canceling public tours of the White House blaming budget cuts . . . Americans might not understand the technicalities of the sequester, but this was something else entirely. Was the president actually claiming there was not a single other government item — not one — that could be cut instead of the White House tours? Really?
Thanks to the combination of pushback against the canceled tours and Twitter campaigns with hashtags like #SequesterThis, Americans are providing the administration with suggestions for other cuts that could help reinstate the White House tours.
Here's a look at some of the suggested cuts.
"#SequesterThis If the First Family took fewer vacations, we could use the savings to keep the WH open for tours," Bob Utsey tweeted.
Politico reported Thursday that the Obama family is likely headed to Martha's Vineyard for a summer vacation, which has drawn the ire of Twitter users, who indicate the family ought to eliminate their vacation instead of tours to the White House.
"So far, the White House isn't saying anything, but the Vineyard is abuzz with the news," Politico reported. "The first family is expected toward the end of August, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity."
In 2011, news agencies estimated the Obama family vacation to Martha's Vineyard cost millions of dollars.
>> President Barack Obama, second from left, pauses on his bike ride with his family and friends including Sasha Obama, 8, right, while on vacation on Martha's Vineyard on Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah, Mass. Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009.
"Can't find cuts #sequesterthis #youpay for it," Michael Farrell tweeted. "Why did Govt pay $140k for bus rides during Super Bowl? #29 in Waste Book."
According to Sen. Tom Coburn's 2012 Waste Book and the Independent Review Journal, the Department of Transportation provided a $142,419 grant for free bus rides at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
"A number of other transportation options were also available to fans: hotel shuttles, other community buses, and carpooling. Cabs were also an option," according to the book. "Prices for Super Bowl tickets easily average $3,000. Fans could have probably afforded the fare out of their own pockets."
>> In a photo made with a fisheye lens, fans pose for photos in front of a sign for Super Bowl XLVI on Monument Circle in Indianapolis, Friday, Feb. 3, 2012.
"White House can't afford tours, but it can afford $277K per year for 3 calligrapher salaries? #SequesterThis," Susan Cloud tweeted.
According to data from the Annual Report to Congress on White House Staff, the White House employs two calligraphers and one chief calligrapher at a total of $277,050 per annum.
The calligrapher position does not appear on the 2011 or 2010 reports.
The Daily Caller reported that the White House said calligraphers are needed for the preparation of invitations, placards, citations and White House awards, created by hand.
"#SequesterThis: Sequester? What Sequester? USDA still doing wine conference," Michael Ranney tweeted.
"Yes, even as the White House warns that the modest automatic spending cuts will force the furlough of meat inspectors, two divisions of the Agriculture Department will underwrite the 26th California Small Farm Conference in Fresno next week," The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. "The event will feature USDA speakers, field trips, a banquet and a tasting reception, according to the conference website. Conference organizers promise the tasting will be a 'mouthwatering event' featuring 'fine wines and exceptional micro-brews paired with seasonally driven culinary delicacies.' How can we sign up?"
>> In this July 18, 2012, file photo, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington.
"#sequesterthis Obama runs $1 million in government funded 'gun safety' ads," TPartyBlog tweeted.
The Hill reported Wednesday that a $1 million grant to the National Crime Prevention Council would develop public service announcements to encourage gun owners "to safely store their firearms so that they do not fall into the wrong hands."
The Department of Justice estimated the ads would reach more than 1,700 TV stations, nearly 15,000 radio stations and more than 500 cable networks in 210 markets this summer.
"We can send $250,000,000 to Egypt or keep White House open for school children to tour & send Egypt $249,982,000 #tcot #SequesterThis #p2," John Henry Decker tweeted.
On Sunday, March 3, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released $250 million in American aid to Egypt as a reward for President Mohammed Morsi's pledges of political and economic reforms, The Associated Press reported.
Of the $250 million, $190 million was part of a long-term $450 million pledge "in a good-faith effort to spur reform and help the Egyptian people at this difficult time," according to The Associated Press. The additional $60 million was for a new fund for "direct support of key engines of democratic change." That fund may climb to $300 million over time.
>> Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi take their seats at the starts of their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt on Sunday, March 3, 2013.
"#SequesterThis: 1,362 duplicative programs @ $364.5 BILLION per year. #DuplicationNation," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., tweeted.
In a Feb. 26 letter to Jeffrey Zients, the Deputy Director for Management, Coburn suggested addressing duplicative programs as a way to prevent laying off or furloughing air traffic controllers, border patrol officers and others.
"Duplication means paying more for less. Sequestration requires doing more with less. Eliminating unnecessary duplication, therefore, provides a commonsense approach that can result in billions of dollars being saved across the government without sacrificing, and in some cases improving, services," Coburn wrote. "For example, more than $40 million may have been paid by various agencies for the same exact research, according to a new study published in the journal Nature."
The Senator's website provides links to "more than 700 duplicative federal programs across the Washington bureaucracy." According to Coburn's information, duplicative programs can be found in the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation and Defense.
The Government Accountability Office's 2012 report also lists ways to reduce duplication, overlap and fragmentation of department duties in order to achieve savings.
"Flight delays? Instead #sequesterthis FAA pays unused airports. $450K for one in OK. #youpayforit #4 in Waste Book," Michael Farrell tweeted.
In his 2012 Waste Book, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., dinged the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission for keeping the Lake Murray State Park Airport open, saying it averages just one flight per month, has no planes based there, is situated miles from two more heavily used airports, and is open "simply to land more federal funds."
Much of the $150,000 the airport receives from the Federal Aviation Administration each year goes to other areas in the sate, "making the Lake Murray State Park Airport a layover to land government money," Coburn's report said.
"The OAC has also accepted FAA Airport Improvement Programs grants (AIP) totaling more than $180,000 since 2002 that were specifically for improvements to the Lake Murray airstrip, including runway rehabilitation, updated runway lighting, beacons and tree clearing. Despite these grants, the strip has no electricity and thus, no lighting and the runway pavement is said to be 'nearing the end of its useful life,'" the book said. "If this layover boondoggle is happening in Oklahoma, is it happening elsewhere?"
"#SequesterThis - Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars for Official Portraits," Talk Show America tweeted.
A March 4 ABC News report said that the latest portrait for outgoing EPA administrator Lisa Jackson cost $38,350, while Air Force Secretary Michael Donnelly's portrait cost $41,200, Commerce Secretary John Bryson's portrait cost $22,500 and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's cost $22,500.
"It just shows how Washington has become immune to the cost of things and the actual price," Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense told ABC. "Twenty thousand dollars on a portrait; that's real money and that's real waste."
>> In this April 17, 2012 file photo, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at EPA Headquarters in Washington.
"#SequesterThis: $200 million of your taxpayer dollars funded a reality TV show in India. #CutSpendingNow," Lucky Neneh tweeted.
According to The Heritage Foundation, the Department of Agriculture's Market Access Program spent $200 million to help U.S. agricultural trade associations and cooperatives advertise products in foreign markets, and funded a reality TV shows in India advertising U.S. cotton in 2011.
A 2011 New York Times story said American taxpayers sent around $20.3 million to the Cotton Council International, which created the reality show, "Let's Design." The show, which is now on its fifth season, features aspiring designers creating outfits using cotton.
The Market Access Program uses funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit Corporation and has provided nearly $2 billion in taxpayer money to agriculture trade associations and farmer cooperatives, The New York Times reported.
"Top U.S. Foreign Aid Recipients 2012: $3B Israel, $2.3B Afghan, $2.1B Pakistan, $1.7B Iraq, $1.6B Egypt #SequesterThis," KP tweeted.
The numbers cited in the tweet were taken from an ABC News graphic, which showed increases in aid spending from 2008 to 2012 for Israel, $2.38 billion to $3.075 billion; Afghanistan, $1.957 billion to $2.327 billion; Pakistan, $738 million to $2.102 billion; Iraq, $605 million to $1.683 billion; Kenya, $599 million to $652 million and Nigeria, $486 million to $625 million.
"#SequesterThis White House staff grew from 454 in 2011 to 468 in 2012. Up 14 heads and 3%," Jordan Dea-Mattson tweeted.
The TeaPartyNewsNetwork also targeted government hires, tweeting, "Obama keeps hiring with #Sequester in place: 400 jobs posted on first day back #SequesterThis #TeaParty #UniteBlue"
According to a Washington Times article published Monday, more than 400 federal jobs had been posted by 6 p.m. on the first day with the sequester cuts in place.
The annual salary for a job posted at the Homeland Security Department would be enough to detain one immigrant for about 500 days, which raises questions about the department's decision to release some low-priority illegal immigrants from jail, the Times story said.
"The government gave a $3,700 grant to build a miniature street in West Virginia — out of Legos #SequesterThis," BigNorthCarolina tweeted.
Jim Geraghty highlighted the spending referenced in this tweet in a Feb. 25 National Review piece, saying $3,700 in funding from the National Scenic Byways Program was used to buy 30,000 Lego pieces to assemble a miniature replica of an historic downtown street in Martinsburg, West Va.
"With 2,593 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges in West Virginia, federal transportation dollars would probably be better spent on real rather than toy roads," Coburn's 2012 Waste Book said.
"#SequesterThis Better yet cut the Corporation for Public Broadcast Subsidy — $445 million annual savings," Red Cav tweeted.
The govenrment's PBS subsidy was targeted during the 2012 presidential election, with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying that although he loved PBS and Big Bird, he didn't think it was worth borrowing money from China to pay for the $445 million subsidy.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, about 12 percent of PBS's funding, funneled through the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, comes from the government subsidy. Around 60 percent comes from private donors, grants, and dues paid by member stations. However, the paper cautioned, the budget benefits of cutting that funding would be "miniscule."
"#SequesterThis: Government spent $750,000 of taxpayer $$ to build Guantanamo Bay detainees a new soccer field," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tweeted.
Paul's tweet cited a Fox News story published Feb. 28, which said construction for the new soccer field began in April 2011 and is due to be finished this spring. "Highly compliant" detainees will be able to use it.
"On the tour, a military police representative who asked not to be identified by name said allowing high levels of activity outdoors helped reduce behavioral problems at the camps, and it also limited the amount of interaction between detainees and the guards," the article said.
>> In this photo taken Wednesday, May 13, 2009 and reviewed by the U.S. military, a U.S. trooper in uniform enters the Guantanamo detention facility at dawn, inside Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba.
"#SequesterThis 57 Christmas Trees in a #Whitehouse that was closed 4 #Christmas," Boazziz tweeted.
Another tweet referring to White House Christmas trees pointed to a Dec. 2012 Daily Mail article which said the building's 54 live Christmas trees — enough to put one in nearly every room — totaled around 50 percent more than 2011's 37 trees.
The First Family spent Christmas in Hawaii, arriving on Dec. 22, The Associated Press reported at the time. The president flew back to Washington after Christmas to be a part of talks with Congress regarding a "fiscal cliff" combination of tax hikes and spending cuts that were due to kick in in January. After a deal was reached on the fiscal cliff, the president flew back to Hawaii.
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., targeted the president's vacations in a tweet, saying, "#sequesterthis -White House tours could resume if the president canceled one vacation."
The canceled White House tours will save about $2 million over the remainder of the fiscal year, according to NBC News, or roughly half the cost of the family's Christmas vacation to Hawaii, going by numbers compiled by the Hawaii Reporter.
>> President Barack Obama speaks as first lady Michelle Obama listens during a visit with members of the military and their families in Anderson Hall at Marine Corp Base Hawaii, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. The first family is in Hawaii for a holiday vacation.
Reporter John Stossel took to Twitter to suggest multiple ways to make cuts to government spending:
"Politicians spent $55,000 to discover the link between immaturity and heavy drinking in your 30s. You paid for that! #CutTheSpending."
"The Feds sent a comedy tour to India called 'Make Chai, Not War.' It cost you $88,000. #GiveMeABreak."
"The U.S. spent $140 thousand of your tax dollars to study pig feces in China . . . Seriously. #CutTheSpending."
A study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that individuals in their 30s may begin to view themselves as 'Peter Pans' of partying. The "Make Chai, Not War" comedy tour mentioned by Stossel received funding from the Department of State.
According to The Heritage Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded $141,450 under the Clean Air Act to fund a Chinese study on swine manure and a $1.2 million grant to the United Nations for clean fuel promotion.
"A menu with items designed specifically to be eaten on the planet Mars? NASA is spending about $1 million per year on this #sequesterthis," Marck Brickel tweeted.
According to Sen. Tom Coburn's 2012 Waste Book, NASA spends about $1 million annually "researching and building the Mars menu," and has already developed a recipe for pizza and about 100 other foods that could be served on Mars.
"Astronauts who travel to the space station have a wide variety of food available to them, some 100 or so different options, in fact," an Associated Press article said. "And while astronauts make up a panel that tastes the food and gives it a final OK on Earth before it blasts off, the lack of gravity means smell — and taste — is impaired. So the food is bland. On Mars, though, there is a little gravity, allowing NASA to consider significant changes to the current space menu. That's where (the research) comes in."
"You do not need to be a rocket scientist to realize the millions of dollars being spent to taste test Martian meals that may never be served is lost in a black hole," Coburn's report said.
"Obama ignoring $67 billion in savings . . . #sequesterthis," Cranky Patriot tweeted.
A Congressional report released Tuesday suggested that — according to a survey of all 73 inspectors general — if agencies would listen to their inspectors general, the dollar value of potential savings would reach more than $67 billion.
As part of the sequester, government agencies are required to cut a total of $85 billion from their budgets between Saturday and Oct. 1.
"Spend 325K on robo-squirrel & $27M on pottery classes in Morocco. Save $18K on #WhiteHouse tours. #SequesterThis," Blake Sanders tweeted.
The two items referenced in the tweet were highlighted in Coburn's 2012 Waste Book. The first referred to a $325,000 National Science Foundation grant given to researchers at San Diego State University and the University of California to investigate what would happen if a snake is confronted by a robot squirrel built to look, act and smell like the real thing.
The second item mentioned in the tweet — pottery classes in Morocco — was funded by the U.S. Agency of International Development and had the ultimate goal of improving the economic competitiveness of Morocco.
Other items cited in the report included:
— "The most unproductive and unpopular Congress in modern history," at $132 million
— "Junk food, luxury drinks, soap operas, and billions of dollars in improper food stamp payments, "at $4.5 billion
— U.S. Department of Agriculture funding to promote caviar, at $300,000
— The country paying more to produce pennies than pennies are actually worth, at $70 million
— Free or reduced-price cell phone service, at $1.5 billion
— High-capacity Internet routers placed in tiny rural libraries and schools, at $24 million
— A "Prom Week" video game, from the National Science Foundation, at $516,000
— "Corporate welfare" for PepsiCo Inc., at $1.3 million
— An old-fashioned trolley system in St. Louis, at $35.6 million
— Identify thieves collecting money from fraudulent tax returns, at an estimated $3.9 billion
— Prisoners receiving college tax credits, at $3.2 billion